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00000179-65ef-d8e2-a9ff-f5ef8d430000The Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington was home to Native Americans and later to settlers. It turned into an top-secret military workhorse during World War II and the Cold War. Now, it’s one of the most pressing and complex environmental cleanup challenges humanity is facing in the world.This remote area in southeast Washington is where the federal government made plutonium for bombs during WWII and the Cold War. It’s now home to some of the most toxic contamination on earth, a witch’s brew of chemicals, radioactive waste and defunct structures. In central Hanford, leaking underground tanks full of radioactive sludge await a permanent solution. Meanwhile, a massive $12 billion waste treatment plant, designed to bind up that tank waste into more stable glass logs, has a troubled history.00000179-65ef-d8e2-a9ff-f5ef8d440000Anna King is public radio's correspondent in Richland, Washington, covering the seemingly endless complexities of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Sequester To Result In 4,800 Hanford Layoffs, Furloughs

Tobin Fricke
Wikimedia -

RICHLAND, Wash. – As many as 4,800 workers could be furloughed or laid off at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington. It’s the result of the federal spending cuts known as the sequester. Hanford will need to cut $182 million in cleanup work according to a federal letter to Washington Governor Jay Inslee released Tuesday.

The Hanford cuts could begin as early as April 1, but it’s no April Fool’s joke. It’s not clear yet where exactly the cuts will fall, but the Department of Energy’s letter says they will be significant. Some of the work going on now is building demolition, cleaning up trenches of waste and cleaning up contaminated soil around reactor sites and laboratories.

There’s also the site’s hazardous liquid tank waste and a mammoth waste treatment plant under construction. Layoffs and furloughs come at a precarious time -- just as six single-hulled tanks have been identified as leakers.

And that treatment plant faces serious technical questions that require in some cases full-scale testing to root-out problems. Hanford is the largest environmental cleanup project in the nation.

The Department of Energy’s Hanford offices expect to have more details from contractors on the cuts next week.

On the Web:

Department of Energy letter to Gov. Inslee

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.